Check out our latest blog post on Universal Design practices implemented in Mexico and beyond! This blog written by Vanessa Harris, Sophia Jean, Hongji Feng and Ellie Benton was based on an interview Vanessa Harris conducted with Andres Balcazar.  The blog post highlights the career of Andres Balcazar, an architect and accessibility and disability consultant for national and international organizations.

Universal Design is the process of creating products, services, and environments that are accessible to a wide range of people regardless of ability, age, race, and other factors. This approach to design is implemented to enable and empower a diverse population by developing policies, laws, and practices that allow a wide range of individuals to have a better quality of life. The concept of Universal Design has been steadily developing over the years as more and more cities, states, and countries are beginning to acknowledge the lack of policies and other measures in place to protect people of all abilities. 

We recently sat down with Andres Balcazar, an individual who has been applying principles of Universal Design to numerous aspects of his career. Balcazar is an architect and accessibility and disability consultant for national and international organizations, serving as Director for Disability Issues of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. They are independent of the Mexican government and were accredited by the United Nations with “A” status. 

As Mexico is CRPD (Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities) ratified, the commission serves as an independent and national monetary mechanism for the UN disability convention. Their work primarily revolves around CRPD’s article 32.2, which is to promote, protect, and monitor the rights of the disabled in Mexico City. They execute promotion through lectures, meetings, workshops, seminars, and other forms of organizing that all cover disability rights. Protection is done not only by those in the disability affairs office, but by the entire national human rights commission. They essentially serve as disability advisors, dealing with complaints and providing guidance to those who feel that their rights have been violated by their employment. In addition, the commission engages in monitoring through special reports regarding rights of people with disabilities in the Mexican state and access on the rights to accessibility.

Balcazar presented on a panel addressing inclusion, and emergency management at the International Congress for Technology and Tourism for Diversity. Mexico’s region unfortunately is prone to many potential risks including earthquakes, hurricanes on the coast, and other natural disasters. In the commission, they particularly identified the lack of documents to guide people with disabilities during these types of situations. Despite some legislation and standards on addressing people with disabilities during disaster situations, there was still a major lack of specific protocols for people to follow. His commission thus presented potential guidelines for both school and workplace environments. Documents were created for people in fire protection, earthquake protection, and other forms of disaster preparedness, a critical topic in which the disabled community is often neglected.

In addition, Andres Balcazar is also part of an organization known as The Global Initiative for Inclusive information and Communication Technologies (G3 ICT). Previously known as Global Alliance for Accessible Technologies and Environments (GATES), G3 ICT strives to serve as a platform for sharing knowledge between disability professionals around the world, especially with developing countries. The organization seeks out professionals to join and share information with each other regarding disability issues. 

Among his other projects, Balcazar also has contributed to another exceptional organization known as Smart Cities for All, an NGO that works to push governments and cities to provide accessible facilities. Smart Cities currently focuses in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and right here in Chicago. Balcazara and other members work with local authorities to promote smart and inclusive city policies, with the goal of later expanding their practices to all developed and developing countries. Although this new organization is in its early stages, it presents a promising mission of making cities more smart and accessible through technology and software.

Also, through his work as a consultant, Balcazar has given special guidance to agencies and institutions on how to incorporate accessibility and account for human human rights within workplace environments. Balcazar’s own private firm Consultoría Especializada para la Atención de la Diversidad y sus Derechos (CEPADD), deals with human rights and social inclusion, offering services to vulnerable groups. They primarily work to raise the awareness of the executives of disability inclusion so that they can make sure that buildings would know who to talk to and hire to make sure that they were aware of the different kinds of disabilities to deal with, not just people in wheelchairs.

Individuals like Andres Balcazar serve a vital role in society, advocating for a community that is much too often overlooked in planning city, school, and work environments. When asked what frustrates him most in his career, Balcazar mentioned that despite the fight for change that many individuals are working towards, much of the progress is unfortunately slow. There seems to be a lack of urgency among government officials and other authorities. However, this is precisely why the work that Andres Balcazar and others do is so important. As Balcazar stated, “it is not just a matter of complying, but changing people’s mindset instead. Acquiring disability freedom is the actual value.”  By advocating for and working in fields that promote accessibility, inclusion, and human rights, we are able to raise awareness and strengthen a movement that will be transformative for numerous vulnerable communities.

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